Pitching and defense is a hard combination to beat and the Hoppers used it to their advantage Tuesday night.
After dropping a 1–0 decision to Rome on Monday, they bounced back to beat the Braves 3–0. Four pitchers combined for the shutout with Steven Jennings picking up his seventh win of the season.
Rome collected nine hits but, like the Hoppers the previous night, could not get one to produce a run. Greensboro’s defense played a big role in that, turning four double plays.
“That’s a beautiful thing,” said pitching coach Stan Kyles. “A pitcher’s best friend.”
The result, combined with a Hickory loss, kept the Hoppers alive in the post-season race. In the overall standings — the only way Greensboro can get in now that it has been eliminated in the second-half race — Hickory is 79–50 and the Hoppers are 76–56.
That translates to 4 1/2 games behind the Crawdads with six games remaining. Any combination of Hickory wins and Greensboro losses totaling two will eliminate the Hoppers. It’s a very long shot, but not an impossibility. And it is contingent on Delmarva winning the second half.
The Hoppers pitched extremely well Monday and that carried over. After Jennings battled through five innings, Cam Alldred pitched one, Cody Smith added two and Oliver Garcia got the save in the ninth inning.
“It was a solid outing by Jennings and he got out of some jams,” said manager Miguel Perez. “Smitty gave us a good couple of innings and Garcia came in attacking.”
It was the second straight excellent outing by Jennings. In his previous start, on the road at Delmarva, he allowed one run and three hits in five innings. He’s now up to 125 innings for the season and will make one more start, on the road at West Virginia.
“He’s doing a nice job of finishing off the season,” Kyles said. “He’s got a better foundation, which enables him to finish off his pitches better. He could have thrown in the towel on this season but he has hung in there and rebounded well.”
Jennings is usually around the strike zone, which means he’s going to give up some hits. And he did Tuesday, allowing six, several of which were hit hard.
“He made some pitches with traffic on the bases,” Kyles said. “But he didn’t add to it by walking people and he didn’t panic.”
The Braves put their leadoff batter on base in the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Three times they got the first two hitters aboard. They were stymied each time, which is where the double plays came in.
The first came in the second inning with runners on first and second with no outs. Third baseman Michael Gretler fielded a grounder, stepped on the bag and got the throw in time to first base.
In the fourth inning, again after the Braves opened with two singles, second baseman Ji-Hwan Bae snagged a grounder, flipped to shortstop Zack Kone for one out and Kone’s relay to Luke Mangieri finished it off.
With Alldred on the mound in the sixth, two hits and a walk loaded the bases with one out. Kone had to wait on a high chopper, then pegged to Bae at second and Bae’s relay nipped the runner at first to end the inning.
Finally, with Smith pitching in the eighth, Kone made a nice short-hop pickup to start the final double play of the night.
“Those plays got us out of some innings,” Perez said. “We’re in the top three in the league in turning double plays.”
The Hoppers managed just enough offense to eke out three runs. Luke Mangieri picked up two RBIs on groundouts and Fabricio Macias drove in the other run with a single.
Macias was in the middle of the first run when he opened the second inning with a double down the left-field line, stole third base and scored when Mangieri grounded out to second base.
“He’s been one of the key guys for us all year,” Perez said of Macias. “He did a great job stealing third base when he noticed the third baseman shifting over.”
The series continues Wednesday night and Winston Nicasio will start for the Hoppers.